Safety for Brazilian activist after Amnesty International action

A Brazilian organization has thanked Amnesty International after an action by the organization brought safety to a peasant farmer and land rights activist. Death threats against José Luís da Silva, his wife, Severina dos Santos Silva, and their family are now the subject of a police investigation.

José Luís da Silva and his family received death threats in relation to a court case brought against four men they allege were involved in a violent attack on their family in December 2007. The family believe that they were targeted specifically because of their fight for land rights, which has involved a long-running dispute with a local farm owner.

The family has lived in a peasant farming community on the Quirino farm in the state of Paraiba for over 20 years. In 1998, after the community had been threatened with eviction by the owner of the farmland, the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária, INCRA), the federal body responsible for the implementation of land reform, ruled that the land the community lives on should be turned over to the peasant farmers who live there as a part of the agricultural reform process.

Since this ruling, the owner of the farm has been fighting this decision in the courts, while allegedly threatening and intimidating the settlers (posseiros), some of whom have lived on the land for up to 50 years.

Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action in January 2009 calling for action on the case. The NGO Associação de apoio aos asentamentos e comunidades quilombolas (AACADE, Support association for settlers and quilombola communities), which supports the families who settled on the Quirino farm, said that Amnesty International’s campaign, had an immediate effect.

“As a consequence of the Urgent Action, a special police investigator was appointed to follow the investigations into the attack on the Silva family. This appointment was the consequence of steps taken by federal and state authorities which had received letters from Amnesty members from around the world.

“Another consequence of the campaign was the airing of a television programme called ‘I want justice’, broadcast on 14 April of this year. It was the first time that the case [of the Quirino farm] had been presented impartially and accurately. Thirdly, and most importantly, the threats diminished significantly.”